KANSAS CITY STAR: Gov. Sam Brownback’s top aides blatantly misled public on children’s fund

By Yael Abouhalkah
March 15, 2016

An attempt to undermine the credibility of a Kansas children’s advocacy group and mislead the public has backfired on top aides to Gov. Sam Brownback.

The recent actions of Budget Director Shawn Sullivan and Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley have instead damaged the credibility of the governor and his administration during an increasingly bitter legislative session.

Just Monday, GOP lawmakers argued among themselves about how to respond to recent Brownback vetoes of bills approved by the Republican-dominated Legislature. And some GOP members are openly calling for an end to Brownback’s income tax cuts of 2012, which have bled the state treasury dry.

The incident involving Kansas Action for Children began on March 8.

Shannon Cotsoradis, president of the organization that supports early childhood development programs, said in a legislative meeting that the state might try to shift some of the state’s share of tobacco lawsuit settlement funds that help fund her group over to the state’s general fund.

“At the end of the day, children could end up with nothing,” Cotsoradis said.

This is how Hawley responded on Twitter later that day.

“Despite rumors, there is no deal or pending legislation to sell tobacco settlement money.”

Nine minutes later, Sullivan made his own comment.

“Why are there black helicopters circling my office? Are they here to drop off this secret deal?”

These were unusual near-attacks on the children’s group, prompting my own reading of the situation.

“Fun tweets. Strong tweets. Then again, if a deal DOES emerge, @SSullivan66610 & @EileenMHawley will look foolish.”

As events have unfolded in recent days, both Brownback aides do look foolish today.

Cotsoradis later in the week unveiled that the Brownback administration had indeed discussed this issue last year.

In an even more disturbing revelation, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported over the weekend that Brownback and some legislative leaders had talked about the tobacco bonding issue on March 2 — right after officials reported that the state’s February revenues had come in far below expectations.

Cotsoradis understandably was upset when she found out about the March 2 meeting, which occurred a week before she appeared at the Topeka legislative gathering. She told the newspaper:

“The things that have been said by the administration in the last few days have been blatantly deceptive. Let’s remember we’re talking about the most vulnerable babies and toddlers in Kansas. Gov. Brownback is pushing a plan that will bankrupt our state’s children to avoid admitting that his tax experiment has failed.”

Hawley and Sullivan should have known better and treated her group and especially Kansans with more respect.

Instead, they basically appeared to be trying to deceive people on purpose.

The governor’s spokeswoman put out a statement that was misleading and didn’t come close to hinting at the real story.

And the budget director tried to make fun of the situation — while knowing far more about the situation than he was willing to share with Kansans.

The meetings by Brownback officials of last year and, certainly, of earlier this month regarding the tobacco-related funds should have been made public.

Hawley, Sullivan and Kansas legislators who knew anything about the discussions ought to have have been more transparent about what was going on.

Read more from the Kansas City Star.

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